Located: in the northern part of Laos
Total area: 16,500 square kilometers
Population: 309,393 (2023)
8 Districts: Xam Neua, Xiengkhor, Viengthong, Vieng Xay, Huameuang, Xam Tai, Sopbao & Add
Capital of the province: Xam Neua
A mountainous province in the northeastern Laos, Houaphanh is enclosed by Vietnam to the north and south-east, Xieng Khouang to the south-west and Luang Prabang to the west. . While in the past it was difficult to navigate the province’s dramatic terrain, road upgrades now make travel easier and more enjoyable. Scenery along the roads into Houaphanh is stunning.
Houaphanh Province is the birthplace of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. However, it is one of the least visited provinces in the country and offers an authentic and varied experience for visitors. Enjoy a pristine natural environment of mountains, rivers, waterfalls and forests, visit the caves at Vieng Xay for a unique insight into the history of the country. Discover the mysterious Standing Stones of Hintang Archaeological Park, a collection of upright, rough stones about 2 meters high, some of which have tunnel-like caverns beneath them, which date back more than 2000 years.
Houaphanh has many unique and beautiful natural attractions. The provincial capital, Xam Neua, is a quiet and rustic city on the Xam River. Here you will enjoy markets trading produce from China and Vietnam and a variety of handicrafts produced by the Hmong, Tai Dam, Tai Daeng and Tai Lue ethnic groups. Also of interest in Xam Neua is Wat Phoxainaram, home to an impressive bronze Buddha possibly dating back to 1565 and an interesting series of murals depicting the life of Buddha and scenes from Lao History.
Vieng Xay, located northeast of the capital, boasts over 100 limestone caves, 10 of which have immense national and historical significance as the hidden headquarters of the Neo Lao Hak Sad from 1961-1975. In the southeast of Houaphanh is the Nam Xam National Protected Area (NPA), which provides habitat for wild elephants, various gibbons, gaur, banteng, tiger, clouded leopard, Asiatic black bear and Malayan sun bear. South of Xam Neua is Tat Saloei, a beautiful waterfall best viewed after the rainy season. Nam Et-Phou Loei is the largest NPA in Laos situated in the northwest of Houaphanh. It is best known for harboring one of the most important tiger populations remaining in Indochina. Its outstanding biodiversity includes over 30 species of large mammals and 300 species of birds.
The best Tai Daeng woven textiles are produced in Houaphanh, At local markets you will find an interesting variety of cutlery, jewellery and other items fashioned from Cluster Bomb Units and war scrap that remains scattered throughout the countryside. Houaphanh Province boasts the usual variety of Lao noodles, fragrant sticky rice and local dishes. The most notable are a vegetable salad flavored with sesame called “soup phak” and chili paste known as “jaeow pa baum”.
NAM ET – PHOU LOUEY NATIONAL PROTECTED AREA
Nam Et–Phou Louey National Protected Area (NPA) is the largest of Laos’ national parks, covering seven districts and three provinces (Houaphan, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khouang provinces). Mostly hilly or mountainous, it is the source of many rivers. It is named after its two main features, the Nern and Et Rivers and Phou Louey Mountain (“Forever Mountain”). The area has primary forest remaining in many areas, a high level of biodiversity, and a number of endangered species including tiger, gaur, Sambar deer, and whitecheeked gibbon. The Nam Nern Night Safari is a 24-hour boat-based tour into the core of the NEPL NPA. The trip involves night-time wildlife spotlighting: long-tail boats drift down the Nam Nern River looking for wild and endangered animals. Additional nature activities during the tour include bird watching, wildlife tracking, and a short morning hike. Visitors to the Night Safari stay overnight in traditional Lao bungalows built and managed by the community. The Night Safari has gained public recognition and international visibility as well as won the ‘World Responsible Tourism Award’ both in year 2013 and 2014. Most conveniently accessed by an all – weather road from Phonsavanh on Route 7 and Route 1 to Meuang Hiam. The northern area can be approached from Xam Neua on a rough seasonal road, which traverses Nam Et NBCA in an east-west direction.
HINTANG ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK
Dating some 2,000 years, these menhirs (standing stones) were first examined in 1931, and burial sites in the area contained some ancient trinkets. Marked by standing rock slabs and stone disks, these relics, predating the Plain of Jars, are located along a 12 kilometers mountain ridge in the province’s south. Cuts south from Route 6 at Ban Phao (Km 35.3), 57km from Xam Neua. The main site is right beside the track after 6km, around 800m beyond the obvious radio-mast summit. Some 2km back towards the main road.
THE HIDDEN CITY
Vieng Xay is home to the “Hidden City”, a network of caves used by the Pathet Lao (Lao revolutionary movement) as their military headquarters during the Indochina war. The caves sheltered over 20,000 people, including its leaders, for an important, but little known episode in world history. In addition to the caves used by Central Committee members, there were caves housing foreign embassies, hospitals, factories, markets, schools and more. Vieng Xay is now referred to as the “Birthplace of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic”. An 18-stop guided audio tour and a one-day guided walking tour tell the story.
In the north of town, have a look at the Independence Monument built on a hilltop in the town’s northwest in 1978, a testimonial to Laos’ liberation. Four hooked concrete pincers hold aloft a glittery disco ball that is intended to celebrate Sam Neua’s folk-song image as an ‘indestructible jewel’. However, the effect is unintentionally comic, with its backing of half-hearted fountains and a frieze full of communist triumphalist soldiers.
TAD SALEUY WATERFALL
A short, easy walk on a flat trail from Road 6 leads to this treelined waterfall that drops some 100 meters, as it cascades over rock slabs to a final leap into a relaxing pool and on to a calm stream. A trail alongside the falls takes the adventurous to the top. Vendors on Saleuy Village’s roadside sell locally made textiles.